Serial murder has occurred through the centuries since the dawn of human existence. The depraved monsters who lurk among us inspire both absolute dread and an irresistible curiosity. We simply can’t believe the twisted acts of horror they commit, their warped views of right and wrong, their inability to feel remorse for the lives they’ve taken and families they’ve destroyed, and their seemingly senseless thirst for blood. It is the last of these traits, however, that is possessed by a rather unusual, yet terrifying subset of serial killers— those who engage in cannibalism.
These murderers consume the flesh and blood of the people they kill for various reasons, ranging from a sense of “keeping” their victims forever to saving money on groceries. Whatever the reason is, we can be sure it’s deeply demented and decidedly disturbed. Here are the ten most ferocious cannibal murders to ever stalk their prey, along with their various reasons for deciding to consume their victims.
10 Ottis Toole
Ottis Toole was a serial killer who operated for an undetermined length of time from the 1960s to the 1980s and who was also a brief companion to, and partner-in-crime of, the more infamous serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. The two stalked and terrorized Florida, leading to Toole being dubbed “the Jacksonville Cannibal.” Though Ottis told many wild tales of homicide, which made it difficult to determine which murders were authentic and which were not, it’s believed that he committed his first murder at the age of 14. He claims to have killed over 100 people.
Toole was raised in a turbulent, abusive household, making later claims of incest and rape by a neighbor and his sister. The most intriguing part of Toole’s childhood stemmed from his grandmother, who he claimed was a Satanist. Apparently, Toole’s grandmother gave him the moniker “the Devil’s Child” as she showed him allegedly Satanic practices such as grave-robbing and self-mutilation. He would later drop hints of Satanic inspiration for his killings, confessing to at least 108 total murders. Toole had a very low IQ and needed the aid of Lucas to continue undetected.
During their time together, it was stated by Lucas that Toole would take his victims and cook them as a barbecue, with Lucas later recounting that he “wasn’t a cannibal because he didn’t like the taste of Toole’s BBQ sauce.” The two deranged killers had a combined confession of hundreds of victims. It was said that throughout Toole’s killing spree, he liked to eat the ribs of his victims and drink their blood, something Lucas seemingly disapproved of later. When asked in an interview whether he actually ate people or not, Toole replied, “You look damn tasty. If I had me a knife, I’d slit your throat and drink some blood.”
How does one reach this level of depravity to cause such carnage? Toole and Lucas told much about their murders, yet we’re still left wanting something more concrete as to what drives a person to this level of evil. Toole’s reasons for cannibalizing his victims, though seemingly impossible for the rest of us to follow, seem to simply boil down to nothing more than “because I could,” and he even once said he sometimes ate his victims simply to save money on groceries. That is the very definition of “in cold blood.” Audio recordings of the two madmen discussing their cannibalistic ways over the phone are plentiful and can be found online.
9 Joachim Kroll
Between February, 8, 1955, and July, 3, 1976, a relatively unknown German serial killer unleashed terror in Germany and claimed the lives of 14 people, though the killer said there could have possibly been more he simply forgot about. Joachim Kroll would later become known as the Ruhr Hunter, the Duisburg Man-Eater, and the Ruhr Cannibal for his bizarre, cannibalistic crime spree that spanned over 20 years.
Committing his first murder in 1955, Kroll stabbed and killed a young 19-year-old German girl before dismembering her body. It should be noted here that there is usually an escalation in serial murder from being more timid, often killing out of necessity more than pleasure, to more twisted and bloody as killers embrace their homicidal ways. But it seems Kroll jumped in without a care in the world, as if his dark desires were so great that he had the mind of a mad butcher within him since birth, awaiting to be unleashed upon society.
Unlike other cannibal murderers, Kroll would cannibalize almost every single one of his victims, slicing pieces of their bodies off to consume. All of the victims were found stripped, raped after death, and with pieces of their flesh removed. Like Toole, Kroll would also later state that his murders had to do with a simple inability to buy food, also stating that cannibalizing young children was the only meal he found truly satisfying.
After the murder of a four-year-old-girl by Kroll, police were knocking around when a neighbor told them about a clogged waste pipe. When the neighbor had asked Kroll if he knew what was stopping up the pipes, he simply replied, “Guts.” The pipe was blocked up by the girl’s intestines. Upon entering Kroll’s residence, the police found a house of horrors, complete with a severed hand cooking in a pan of boiling water.
Like Toole, Kroll had a very low IQ, which led to his capture, given that he nonchalantly told his neighbor not to use the upstairs community bathroom because he had clogged the toilet with guts. It is presumed that Kroll was able to murder and kill for so long without being caught because police suspected they were tracking someone much more intelligent and were unable to make sense of the bizarre, erratic crimes accordingly.
8 Andrei Chikatilo
Andrei Chikatilo, the infamous Butcher of Rostov, was a Soviet serial killer whose brutal killing spree began with the murder of nine-year-old Lena Zakotnova in 1978 and turned into a reign of terror that would last over a decade. His story ended with the biggest spectacle in post-Soviet Russia, the capture and trial of a monster who had stalked several countries in the former USSR for decades, hunting along the train stations for fresh meat he could lure into the woods and kill.
Chikatilo was an unusual serial killer, driven by a boiling rage within him from his lifelong inability to perform sexual acts. More often than not, he couldn’t even have intercourse with his wife. It was from this that Chikatilo learned how to express his lust and sexual appetite through rape, torture, and violence. Even during his trial and confession to murdering 56 people, Chikatilo came uncannily close to admitting to have engaged in cannibalism but would ultimately back down when the time came to confess to actually eating people.
Chikatilo met 17-year-old Larisa Tkachenko outside a public library in 1981. He overpowered Tkachenko and wrestled her to the ground, strangling her to death before biting off one of her nipples and desecrating her corpse. Chikatilo would disembowel many of his victims, often removing the uterus from women, which he said he would nibble and chew on, claiming to have enjoyed the taste and texture. Many of Chikatilo’s female victims were missing their uterus and nipples, both body parts Chikatilo claimed to have a particular fondness of chewing on. He even bit off one victim’s tongue. Chikatilo was executed on February 16, 1994, by a single gunshot behind the right ear.
7 Tamara Samsonova
Also known as “the Granny Ripper,” Tamara Samsonova was a Russian-born serial murderer who you’d never suspect would be a brutal cannibal. At 68 years old, she was arrested in 2015 for the suspected murder of her 79-year-old friend, Valentina Ulanova, after a closed-circuit camera captured what appeared to be her transporting body parts in a black plastic bag. Shortly after the video was recorded, local police discovered Ulanova’s corpse. It had been left in a river after being decapitated. Investigation would later reveal that she killed at the very least 11 people, with an extreme likelihood of having murdered more.
Following in the footsteps of Andrei Chikatilo, she seems to have modeled her killing career after his acts of atrocity, including murder, dismemberment, and, of course, cannibalism. Not only did she murder her longtime friend Ulanova, but her husband and several other people close to her have all mysteriously disappeared over a 20-year period. 12 years before the Ulanova murder, a headless, limbless body was found on her street. That man’s business card was later discovered in her flat. It is alleged that she even dismembered one of her victims while he was still alive. Her diaries tell of her murder spree, describing up to 11 murders in great detail.
Ultimately, Samsonova was declared legally insane and suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. She was committed to a mental hospital by the court for her crimes.
6 Arthur Shawcross
Anyone over 30 years old who’s a die-hard metal fan remembers (and can probably tell you at length about) that time Cannibal Corpse sampled serial killer Arthur Shawcross as the opening to their track “Addicted to Vaginal Skin” off the Tomb of the Mutilated album. The audio clip of the madman speaking about his crimes seemed to suit the track perfectly, as Shawcross says, “I just took that knife, and I cut her from her neck down to her anus. And I cut out her vagina and ate it.”
Such disturbing statements could only come out of a horror movie, right? Wrong. Arthur Shawcross, aka the Genesee River Killer, was a deranged murderer who took the lives of 14 people between 1972 and 1989. He began his murderous spree by killing two children in New York state. In 1990, he would be convicted of killing ten prostitutes. Shawcross mutilated each body senselessly and immensely, claiming to have first cannibalized during the Vietnam War, saying it bred an unstoppable lust for killing and cannibalism within him. As is common with extremely brutal killers, many think these men exaggerate their claims of murder and cannibalism, but the candid nature with which Shawcross and others have delivered their testimony of bloodshed make us wonder if it’s they who exaggerate or us who just can’t face the horrors of reality.
Many interviews exist of Shawcross, who was very open about his murders throughout his life. These recordings show a laughing, often seemingly loving and jolly man casually discussing some of the most vile crimes the world has ever known. Make no mistake, Shawcross was a ruthless murderer and bloodthirsty cannibal. Arthur Shawcross was ultimately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He died in 2008.
5 Robert Maudsley
Robert Maudsley is an English serial killer who has spent over 25 years in an isolation cell. His cell freakishly resembles a scene out of Silence of the Lambs. Maudsley refers to it as a “glass cage” or “concrete coffin,” and he’s been dubbed “the Real-Life Hannibal Lecter.” Although his spree only consists of four victims, one outside of prison and the other three while incarcerated, the brutality of his crimes have earned him a spot on this list, and you’ll see why.
It should also be noted here that, while no hero, Maudsley made it a point to kill pedophiles specifically, which makes many wonder if the treatment he’s received is actually justice. After being picked up by a pedophile who allegedly showed him the rape and abuse he’d done to previous child victims, Maudsley strangled his would-be attacker to death, later earning him the nickname “Blue,” in reference to the color of the victim’s face as Maudsley strangled him to death.
While incarcerated, Maudsley earned the moniker “Hannibal the Cannibal” by killing two inmates and allegedly eating one man’s brain with a spoon that had been fashioned into a prison shank. Note, however, that there is no proof of this. Robert Maudsley has spent years in solitary confinement completely isolated from the rest of the world and has been dubbed Britain’s most dangerous prisoner.
4 Jeffrey Dahmer
Probably the most infamous of all cannibal serial killers and one of the most infamous murderers of all time is Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal. He’s become a household name, one that is almost synonymous with the phrase “serial killer.” Between 1978 and 1991, Dahmer would claim the lives of 17 young men and boys, usually drugging and strangling them before having sex with their corpses, dismembering them, and sometimes eating them. His first two murders were separated by nearly a decade, before he launched into a ravenous, alcohol-fueled spree of compulsive murder, luring innocent men and boys back to his apartment in Wisconsin.
When police entered Dahmer’s home, his apartment was a spectacle of dismembered body parts, skeleton furniture, photographs of nude, deceased men, body parts in the refrigerator, and a now-iconic massive blue barrel which he had filled with hydrochloric acid, which he would use to dissolve the remaining body parts of the men he’d dismembered. Dahmer would later recount that eating his victims made him feel as if he was keeping them forever, as if they were going to remain a part of him, stating, “I was branching out, that’s when the cannibalism started, eating of the heart and the arm muscle. It was a way of making me feel that they were a part of me. At first it was just curiosity, and then it became compulsive.” Upon a search of his apartment, police would find a severed head in the refrigerator and three more in the freezer.
Dahmer would ultimately be given 16 life sentences and would be murdered in prison by fellow inmate Christopher Scarver.
3 Albert Fish
Another infamous cannibal serial killer is Albert Fish, who murdered eight-year-old Grace Budd and ate her body over a series of nine days. In one of the most brazen acts of murder, Fish strolled right into the Budd residence seeking a victim. His initial target was Grace’s older brother, Edward Budd, who was 18 at the time, but upon seeing Grace, Fish decided that she would be much more suitable for his depraved plan of homicide and cannibalism. After a brief time with the Budds, Fish was able to convince the family to allow him to take the helpless Grace with him to a supposed party for his nephew that he claimed he was to be attending that evening. The Budd parents let Grace walk right out of the front door, hand in hand with a cannibalistic murderer.
Fish would later write to Grace Budd’s mother detailing his killing and eating of her daughter in one of the most disturbing letters ever penned in the history of mankind. A portion of the letter to Mrs. Budd read:
On Sunday June the 3—1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese—strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her.
On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them.
When all was ready I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma.
First I stripped her naked. How she did kick—bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body.
Albert Fish would later be tried and executed in the electric chair for his crimes in 1936.
2 Ed Gein
Also from Wisconsin, Ed Gein only confessed to two murders and was only convicted of one, and it’s disputed whether he ate his victims, but he still fits on this list. You see, he wore people. Gein’s crimes and bizarre behavior would later be borrowed from heavily to create the 1970s slasher film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Many of Gein’s real-life horrors would show up in the character Leatherface, among others.
Gein was a shy, quiet old man who lived on a farm and had some serious issues with his mother and women in general. These issues would drive Gein to kill two women in cold blood and wear their skin as masks. He also kept trophies of female vulvae and made decor from human flesh.
When police descended upon Gein’s farmhouse after he’d aroused suspicion, they found the body of one of his victims, Bernice Worden, decapitated and gutted. Gein also had a long history of grave-robbing and would use pieces of the bodies he’d dug up. After committing two murders, Gein was found to be insane and sent to a psychiatric institute, where he would die of cancer.
1 Peter Bryan
A lesser-known cannibal murderer who also only killed two people, Peter Bryan’s crimes nevertheless terrify even the strongest among us. The Englishman wasn’t just evil or malicious—he was clinically insane, suffering from schizophrenia. In 1993, Bryan killed a young shopkeeper, Nisha Sheth, by beating her to death with a hammer. After confessing to this, Bryan would be admitted to Broadmoor Hospital, where Robert Maudsley also stayed.
After several years in psychiatric care, doctors decided that Bryan was capable of returning to the community under terms of extended supervision. It was during this period of release that Peter Bryan would kill, cook, and eat his friend Brian Cherry. The police were called during an altercation the two had gotten into, in which Bryan killed Cherry with a hammer. When officers caught Bryan, he was frying Cherry’s brain in a pan, allegedly with butter, and eating it, later telling police, “I ate his brain with butter. It was really nice.”
I like horror and love to write about the darker side of humanity, history, and philosophy.